A Reformed view of Health
Part 4: Stress, psychosomatic disorders, mental illness, spiritual wholeness and conclusion
“A mind upset makes a body sick. With every passing year, researchers find more and more ways that the mind (psyche) produces sickness in the body (soma)-hence the term psychosomatic illness. These ailments are not just “in the mind”*. Stress leaves our bodies more susceptible to viruses like the common cold. Blood flow, secretions, stomach acid and muscle tension are all directly affected by emotions and psychological stress. The list of ailments directly affected by our minds is immense and can involve every system in the body e.g. stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, menstrual disorders, headaches, diabetes, asthma, muscle and joint disorders, viral infections, anorexia and obesity, and even cancers.
Covering the Christian or Reformed view of mental illness is beyond my remit in these short articles but suffices to say that God may inflict mental illness (think of Nebuchadnezzar) and much human angst including phobias can be addressed by psychologists and good Christian counselling, nevertheless serious mental disorders like depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorders need proper assessment by a consultant psychiatrist and may be helped by medication–they are not within the remit of a pastor.
Stress raises cholesterol, insulin and blood sugar. In many aspects of life we decide how much stress we’ll live with; we choose our job, how much time to spend with children and others, what we do weekends etc. Yet some stress is inevitable and also needed (Romans 5:3-5) and coping with it develops our character. Anger caused by stress and bearing grudges is not healthy. We read in Colossians 3:8, ” But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.” Sinful anger and harbouring resentment and grudges is unhealthy, hatred makes you its slave. Remember hatred is the same as murder. When sinned against by a fellow believer apply Matthew 18:15-17 and “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” (Colossians 2:12,13).We should cope with stress without anxiety seeking God’s peace (Phil.4:6,7). Stress is caused by perceived loss of control. Faith and casting our cares upon God helps us cope better because we trust our Lord who is in control. Knowledge of God and Scripture ought to help us with:
Direction-God’s goals and prioritiesforour life.
Balance-of activities (work, rest, play).
Rest-Sabbath days, sleep, relaxation. A rest that refreshes must calm the spirit and feed the soul (public worship/Bible study/quiet communion with God).
Hope-positivity, confidence in God.
“Life is a guided tour with a great destination.”**
Re-ead Psalm 23!
McMillen and Stern point out that the lives of most of the rich and famous are two dimensional, all work and play and no worship! Faith in the triune God is strong medicine. In fact Christ used the same word for healing as for salvation (Greek SOZO). Your faith has healed (SOZO) you, he said to Bartimaeus (Mark 10:52) and your faith has saved (SOZO) you to the woman taken in adultery (Luke 7:50). Spiritual healing is what Peter had in mind when he penned these words, “ Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (I Peter 2:24).
“Dr Benjamin Rush, the father of American psychiatry, stated that faith is as essential to the mind as air is to respiration.” Health requires good nutrition, exercise and de-stressing but to counteract discouragement, doubt, despair and spiritual death the only antidote is faith in Jesus Christ.
Excessive grief is also dangerous and may trigger physical symptoms and disease. God may use the community of faith to ease our loss. We do not sorrow as those who have no hope. Many a deathbed of the wicked is characterised by harrowing, fearful hopelessness to which our two doctors testify whereas God’s people falling alseep in Jesus die peacefully.
Another thought process that may drive us and harm us is ambition and the desire for personal glory, prestige or power (see Matthew 23:5-12, Phil.2:2-3, Romans 12;3,16). The disciples were like this until rebuked and corrected by their Lord. The inordinate desire to possess, be rich or get to the top precludes love for God (Matthew 6:24), consumes an individual, and will lead them to hell.
Having gone through a catalogue of physical diseases that are avoidable or preventable and touched on the psychological cause of many ailments we return to man’s basic problem which underlies all disease whether of mind or body or spirit and that is sin. Our evil natures are our basic problem and no amout of medication or counselling can correct this. Lurking within us and often surfacing in actions are immorality, shameful passions, greed, gossip, lying, the breaking of God’s law that Paul, speaking as a Christian believer, mentions in Romans 7 and which can only be addressed by the indwelling Christ of the born-again man or woman. If you are not a believer, God’s command to you is repent and believe the gospel. A physician who was anxious about his soul asked a believing patient of his, how he should find peace. His patient replied, “Doctor, I have felt that I could do nothing (regarding my disease), and I have put my case in your hand: I am trusting in you. This is exactly what every poor sinner must do in the Lord Jesus. He saw the simplicity of the way, and soon found peace in Christ.
If you are a believer daily crucifying of the old man is essential-this is the only way to overcome the sinful nature, the spiritual root of all human problems. Christ Jesus became a man who bore a weakened human nature—a human nature subject to hunger and thirst, to disease and weariness, to sickness and death for the sole purpose of dying and being resurrected for our sin, the guilt, power and presence of it, his aim being the ultimate total eradication of what corrupted his good creation.
* Ibid p169
** Ibid p192